Strong opinions, weakly held

What’s a knol?

Google is launching a new Web site aimed at individuals who want to publish articles on the Web. Google calls the articles knols, and based on the example, I’d say they’re most similar to Wikipedia articles. The difference is that the knols are closely associated with one author, whereas Wikipedia articles are all treated as collaborative works. Here’s how Google describes it:

The key idea behind the knol project is to highlight authors. Books have authors’ names right on the cover, news articles have bylines, scientific articles always have authors — but somehow the web evolved without a strong standard to keep authors names highlighted. We believe that knowing who wrote what will significantly help users make better use of web content.

The other important difference from Wikipedia is that if you write a knol, you can choose to allow Google to run ads on it, and you’ll get some of the ad revenue. Google says it’s a “substantial portion.” I imagine that Google has seen more and more Wikipedia articles rise to the top of the rankings for various search terms, and that they want to provide some competition in that market.

As Paul Kedrosky points out, this is a move that could cause some collateral damage as well. It’ll be interesting to see whether it’s better for an author to write a knol on a topic or to publish a downloadable PDF through a publisher like Peepcode. I had a long blog article on SSH I’ve been working on that I may publish as a knol instead, just to find out.

The final question is, how are knols licensed? Does the author keep the copyright or is it assigned to Google? When I write a knol, can I use a Creative Commons license? Licensing issues will play a big part in the success or failure of this new venture.

Update: Adam Engst on Knol:

Just as the open source Linux has proven impossible for Microsoft to squash, Wikipedia’s community-based approach, flawed and argumentative as it can be, will prove more compelling, accurate, and resilient than Google Knol in the long run.

I think this is almost certainly true and yet I also think that Knol still has a potentially valuable role to play. One thing’s for sure, if Google (and other search engines) are fair with their search indexing, we’ll find out which resource people find more valuable by way of search result rankings down the road.


  1. (Disclaimer: I’m a Google employee but I have no direct input on the Knol project.)

    Re: licensing, the example screenshot ( http://www.google.com/images/blogs/knol_lg.png , in the bottom of the right-hand sidebar) contains a CC-BY-3.0 badge and a statement that “this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.” But AFAIK, authors will get to choose their license when they publish a “knol”. I don’t know what the choices will be, but presumably they will include a smattering of CC licenses, plus traditional copyright.

  2. To me this whole Knol thing sounds more like it’s aimed at About.com than Wikipedia directly.

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